The Poussin Project

An introduction to the project

Welcome to the online conservation treatment diary for Nicolas Poussin’s Crossing of the Red Sea. This is the first instalment of a series of informal updates designed to keep the public informed about the restoration of one of the NGV’s most prized paintings.

The main aim of this diary is to provide you with the opportunity to look in on the many steps required to bring such a treatment to completion. Large scale conservation treatments can take months, sometimes even years. They require patience, discipline and planning. We hope the real-time release of news about this treatment while it is in progress will enable you to experience something of the journey the painting and the conservator take as the treatment unfolds.

What does the term“conservation treatment” mean? Broadly speaking, the treatment of paintings falls into two main categories: structural and superficial. Structural work involves the repair of components of the picture which can no longer properly serve their physical function, such as a canvas that is torn, a panel which is split, or paint layer which is flaking.

Superficial treatment concerns work to the surface of the painting, for example the removal of old varnish and restorer’s overpaints, the application of a new varnish, and the retouching of lost or worn areas of paint. Both structural and superficial treatments are time-consuming and demand a ongoing process of adjustment and decision-making to reach the best balance between the demands of the artwork and its material condition. The Poussin treatment will mainly involve surface work. At the top of this page you will find a projected map of the treatment, giving you an outline of the various stages the painting is expected to go through on its way to completion.

Any canvas painting as old as the Crossing of the Red Sea - which we know was painted around 1634 - is bound to have its share of conservation issues. Few paintings emerge unscathed even after a century. For that reason, and also on account of its size, a full year has been set aside to complete the restoration and return the painting to the Gallery walls.

This is the first time we have undertaken an informal online record of a major treatment like this, so it will undoubtedly take time for us to exploit this medium, but we shall try at the very least to accompany the written posts with photos and where possible, with audio-visual content.

We hope you enjoy the process!


The Poussin Project


Carl Villis – Conservator of European paintings before 1800Author of The Poussin Project Blog.

Carl Villis has been a conservator of European Old Master paintings at the NGV since 1995. Alongside his primary focus on the restoration process, he likes to participate in interdisciplinary studies involving the technical and scientific analysis of paintings with traditional art history research to resolving unanswered questions about works of art.